Ronald Koeman hopes a host of new faces will make up for the departures of Phillip Cocu and Alex as PSV Eindhoven begin their Dutch title defence on Sunday.
It will be hard to match the climax to the Eredivisie last April. Three teams went in to the final day even on points, with AZ Alkmaar favourites to lift the title because of their vastly superior goal difference. AZ though were surprisingly beaten by BV Excelsior, opening the door for PSV to claim the crown by virtue of a +1 goal difference from AFC Ajax.
It was PSV's third straight title, and coach Ronald Koeman's first back at the club, providing a happy ending to a season that had threatened to turn sour after PSV threw away an eleven-point lead going into the final day. "I think it's almost impossible to get more excitement than last season," Koeman told uefa.com during a break from training this week. "We slipped a bit after the winter break, allowing the others to get back into it, but we finished as champions and qualified for the Champions League so all in all it was excellent season."
The title race promises to be tight again, and it will be a new-look PSV that kicks off their Eredivisie defence at Heracles Almelo on Sunday. Following the departures of captain Phillip Cocu and defensive lynchpin Alex, PSV have been active in the transfer market. In come midfielders Mike Zonneveld and Tommie van der Leegte, forwards Kenneth Perez, Jonathan Reis and Danko Lazović, defender Slobodan Rajković and goalkeeper Cássio Ramos. With Ismaïl Aissati and Otman Bakkal also back, Koeman looks to have the strength in depth to prevent a similar slide to last season when injuries took their toll.
"Cocu, not to mention [Michael] Reiziger and [Patrick] Kluivert, was experienced and knew what had to be done. Alex too. We'll also miss his personality. It's not easy to replace them like for like so we have signed more players. We have more options than last season, certainly in attack, where we were quite limited in our choices. We loaned out Aissati and Bakkal to give them more experience but we think they can now handle playing at PSV's level. The increased options should make up for the loss of some key players and should hopefully mean we are more consistent."
When Koeman joined PSV last season, he inherited a side built by Guus Hiddink. Koeman responded well to the pressure of taking over from a club legend, and he is undaunted by the challenge of building a new side in his image now. "Ronald Koeman always has to prove himself more then anybody else," he said. "That's something I've always had to deal with. I have been able to work longer with this team than with the one when I joined PSV last year. Now it's a matter of how the players and the team develop and whether they have self confidence. Depending on whether we get off to a good start will have a great impact on how that will develop."
This is an abridged version of an article that appears in this week's edition of the uefa.com Magazine. To read it in full, please click here.